F.W. Woolworths
There was a time when predicting the demise of the famous Woolworth's would have been unthinkable.

The retail giant, one of America's biggest businesses for many years, was among the breed of so-called five-and-dime stores that used their buying power to undercut the prices of competitors. Started in 1879, it is credited as being the first general merchandise store that kept its goods out in the open, letting shoppers handle, inspect and compare items.

For decades, shoppers across the country and overseas flocked to Woolworths to shop and enjoy a snack at its beloved food counters, which often became a community gathering spot (parent to modern food courts). Its success established a blueprint for retail giants that followed, Wal-Mart ( WMT), Target ( TGT) and Kmart ( SHLD) among them.

Why do we speak of Woolworths in the past tense when so many people loved it for so long? Simply put, it collapsed under its own weight -- expanding beyond sustainability and moving away from its five-and-dime discount roots and more toward a department store model.

The end came in 1997 when its parent company pulled the plug and evolved into Foot Locker ( FL), devoting its energy to sporting goods and footwear.

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